Starfish suffocate

It is one of the most famous marine species. And they are dying out. What about starfish? A few years ago, a mysterious debilitating disease nearly wiped out large populations around the world. What is the reason? Now it is known: starfish are suffocating.

These species fill the oceans with color.
These species fill the oceans with color.

Cornell University members suggest that starfish may have difficulty breathing. They literally “drown” in their own environment. They are created by high microbial activity resulting from nearby organic matter. Even warm ocean temperatures rob creatures of their ability to breathe.

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Without air

“As humans, we breathe, we ventilate, we bring air into our lungs and we breathe out,” he said. It’s a statement Ian Hewson. He is Professor of Microbiology at Cornell University. “Starfish diffuse oxygen on their outer surface through small structures called papules or gills in the skin. If there is not enough oxygen around, they cannot breathe. ‘The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

According to Hewson, marine conditions lead to the production of unusual amounts of organic matter. This causes the bacteria to thrive. Bacteria use up organic matter and oxygen in the water. Creation of a low-oxygen microenvironment.

The starfish suffocate and it's like a disease spreading.
The starfish suffocate and it’s like a disease spreading.

“It’s a cascade of problems that begins with changes in the environment,” said Hewson. Most of the organic matter comes from the microscopic exudation of algae. And from the excretion and uptake of zooplankton and the corpses of decomposing animals. This stimulates a group of bacteria called copiotrophs. They survive on carbon and quickly consume organic matter.


Copiotrophe consume oxygen in the water space of the starfish. That is why the starfish suffocate. What if you have a dead starfish next to healthy stars? All organic matter from that dead person is displaced and feeds the bacteria. A hypoxic environment is created. It appears that a disease is being transmitted.

Hewson said, “This is reformulating the discussion about the ecology of marine diseases. It focuses on pathogenic diseases, “he said.” We should include microorganisms that are not directly causing the pathology. They could hold a key to impairing the health of starfish. ‘

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